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Legal Limbo

Abel Manzo says he has been wrongfully put on Oakland's gang injunction list. But he has no constitutional right to an attorney.



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To the same question, an Oakland police spokesman said: "What we do is we gather all the information here. These are all reports that are in the past. Now, we might not know what they're doing right now to better their lives. And that's why they're given the opportunity to go to court to refute whatever's going on here and take themselves off."

But going to court and winning usually requires hiring a good attorney. That's why Siegel and Fuentes want to represent multiple people named under on the Fruitvale list — if not all of them. Currently, however, they've only committed to representing Manzo. But they say Manzo's case is indicative of more than half of the people on the list — people who may have some drug charges and may know gang members, but are far from being the worst of the worst as the city claims. And they plan not only to argue for Manzo's innocence but also to challenge the whole injunction process as flawed.

In an October 20 letter to Russo, Siegel demanded that Manzo be taken off the list and that the city attorney's office "refrain from engaging in making further public statements implicating Mr. Manzo as a Norteno. Mr. Manzo is not a member of the Nortenos and has never been convicted of a gang-related offense."

In November, Russo responded by saying that Manzo has "a long history of gang related activity and adult convictions for drug offenses in 2004 and 2005. Moreover, one of Mr. Manzo's probation officers confirms that he has continued to violate the terms of his probation."

Manzo, now 25, said he did six months in Santa Rita county jail for selling marijuana several years ago. He admitted that he made a "wrong decision." But he maintained that he shouldn't be on the list. "I'm not a gang member," he said. "My family, some of them are gang members, some of them are not. And that's what they probably going off of. Just because my family, they probably think I'm gang related."

In county lockups like Santa Rita, jailers ask inmates to identify their gang affiliations during intake. When they asked, Manzo said he responded: "No. I don't gangbang or nothing." Manzo said he decided to make the best of being behind bars. "I wasn't going to let the time just stress me out, so I just learned how to cut hair and I became a barber," he said. "And I've been doing that for the last couple years."

Neither Russo nor Keely would discuss Manzo's case. But in Russo's letter to Siegel, the city attorney mentioned that Manzo "was arrested as recently as 2009 for associating with other gang members in violation of his probation terms at the scene of a gang-related shooting."

The incident in question happened at a funeral. Manzo said he heard about the service last-minute, and only decided to go when he found out that he knew the mother of the person who had been killed. Manzo said she helped him get a job working at a Goodwill store when he first got out of jail. "So I went to go say sorry for what happened to her son," he said. "I said my sorry. And I left. And I got arrested. I got arrested right when I walked out of the funeral home going to my car. I was going to work. They arrested me and they said [they were taking] me to jail for hanging around gang members — violation of probation. I did seventeen days."

Manzo admitted that he made some "mistakes" in the past. In 2004, he was arrested and later convicted on marijuana charges. But according to records obtained from the city attorney, the only gang-related charge he has is the 2009 parole violation at the funeral.

Manzo acknowledged that he knows gang members, but he said he turned away from that life. He lives in East Oakland with his wife and nine-month-old daughter. He said he plays baseball in what is called The Mexican League. Sometimes his games are far away and he has to drive home late at night. He recognizes the injunction could stop him from doing something he's very passionate about. But he says there are concerns that are even more serious. "It could lead to my barbershop getting shot up or something — for something that I ain't," he said. "Just because, I guess, I associate with gang members, now they say that I'm a gang member. But I'm not. I don't have no tattoos saying I'm gang related. I don't go to jail saying I'm gang related."

But proving he's not a gangbanger is another matter.

In the 1964 book, Gideon's Trumpet, Anthony Lewis, a New York Times journalist, described the landmark case in which the US Supreme Court ruled that criminal defendants have a right to an attorney if they can't afford one. Gang injunctions, by contrast, are civil matters, and alleged gang members only have the right to a lawyer if they violate the terms of the gang injunction. They have no right to an attorney to help them stay off the list in the first place.

Except in Tulare County. There, a public defender convinced a judge to let him represent people in the civil trial that determines whether someone is put on a gang injunction list. William Pernik, a deputy public defender, said he was assigned to defend people who were facing criminal charges for violating the terms of an injunction. He said that during this process he found people whom he felt shouldn't have been on the injunction list to begin with. "Part of the reason why we wanted to come in in the civil case [was] to make sure it's done right — to put [the District Attorney] through adversarial process because we believe if you put them through adversarial process the ultimate injunction is going to be a better injunction," Pernik said. "It's going to be more narrowly tailored to the people who it's intended to enjoin from engaging in illegal activity."

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